Wear the Power of the Sun in Pauline van Dongen's Solar Shirt [Premiere]

Solar Solace from Hammond on Vimeo.

At first glance, Pauline van Dongen’s newest design could be mistaken for a just a regular tee. Its graphic pattern, thick knit, and rounded shape might even be mistaken for a Proenza Schouler. But van Dongen’s Solar Shirt is much more than just high fashion: it’s her latest article of solar-powered clothing, one that can charge a smartphone in two hours.  

With the unisex design, van Dongen expands her solar-powered clothing portfolio, which already includes a parkajacket, and dress. Van Dongen created the shirt after two years of research into solar technology, working with Holst Centre, a research and development center that specializes in flexible electronics. Using Holst’s stretchable interconnect technology, van Dongen laminated 120 thin-film solar cells onto the shirt, which is made of a single piece of fabric, using a heat press—in essence, creating a custom textile that moves and stretches like a t-shirt should.

Today, The Creators Project premieres Solar Solace, an exclusive video of the Solar Shirt in action (above). 

A model wearing the solar shirt. Photo: Courtesy of Pauline van Dongen

In December 2015, Holst, along with Solliance, announced the launch of a roll-to-roll production method for flexible solar modules, a project that took three years to develop, part of a larger research program that also encompasses flexible and textile-based lighting, energy harvesting, sensors, and displays. Advancements in the manufacture of thin-film solar panels were key for van Dongen, who was then able to apply them more creatively to her designs.

The solar shirt generates 1 to 1.5 watts of electricity in bright sunlight, which can either be used as it is generated or stored in a battery pack. More than just smartphones, any handheld, USB-compatible device can be charged from the collected solar energy, through an output conveniently placed in the shirt’s pocket.

“This is not some far-fetched future scenario we’re talking about,” says van Dongen in Solar Solace. “It’s actually becoming reality.”

Detail of the solar panels. Screencap from Solar Solace

The flexible solar technology can be useful in many situations, from keeping a GPS alive on an off-road hike, to a back-up power source when you’re at a coffee shop and can’t snag a table next to an outlet. In the video, a man drives in his car wearing his solar shirt; a woman applies mascara and works with metal in her solar shirt; people walk through a city and ride bikes in their solar shirts. The point: these are just normal shirts that don’t impede any of your daily activities, but can also help keep your other vital organ—your cell phone—powered while you do them. ­

And it’s likely only the beginning: Horst, Solliance, and van Dongen are committed to advancing the technology, working to make it easier to create and afford. They hope to bring these novel techniques to the world of fashion and textiles, eventually reaching the mass market, although the solar wearables are not yet for sale.

Texting on a fully-charged smartphone. Screencap from Solar Solace

Check out more of Pauline van Dongen’s work here.

VIdeo credtis: Directed by: J R Hammond . Animation: Michiel Verweij